A federal judge in Indiana has halted the scheduled Dec. 9 execution of federal prisoner Daniel Lee, who was to be the first executed under new protocols issued in July by U.S. Attorney General William Barr.
Lee was sentenced to death more than 20 years ago for the death of three people living in Tilly, Ark. The last federal execution took place on March 18, 2003, when Louis Jones Jr. died of lethal injection after being convicted for the rape and murder of a female Army private. The most famous execution in the past decades occurred in June 2001 when Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh died by lethal injection after pleading guilty on all counts of masterminding the 1995 domestic terroristic attack.
U.S. Judge James Patrick Hanlon, with the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, agreed with Lee’s attorneys about there being possible errors with evidence and the jury during the process to convict and sentence Lee.
“Mr. Lee has demonstrated substantial grounds upon which to challenge the legality of his execution. Specifically, the structure of § 2255 prevents the District Court of conviction from hearing his claims that are based on newly discovered evidence,” Hanlon noted in his ruling. “Mr. Lee has also demonstrated a significant possibility that he may be able to prevail on those claims by showing that the United States suppressed evidence and misled the jury during his penalty phase. In the end, Mr. Lee may not be able to make this showing. For now, he must have a reasonable opportunity to obtain a reliable judicial determination of these challenges to the fundamental legality of his sentence.”
Federal prosecutors convicted Lee and Chevie Kehoe in May 1999 of murdering Tilly, Ark., gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy Ann Mueller, and his 8-year-old stepdaughter, Sarah Elizabeth Powell. In evidence presented at the federal courtroom in Little Rock when the case came to trial in early 1998, prosecutors said the two men met in 1995, and Kehoe recruited him into the Aryan People’s Republic, violent white supremacist group that also had ties to McVeigh. In January 1996, Lee and Kehoe left the state of Washington and traveled to Arkansas where they dressed in police raid clothing and visited Mueller, who owned a large collection of weapons and ammunition.
Kehoe and his father had earlier robbed Mueller in February 1995, and Kehoe planned to find valuable property at his house. The Muellers were not at home when Lee and Kehoe arrived so they waited. When the Muellers returned, Lee and Kehoe overpowered and incapacitated Mueller and his wife. After finding $50,000 in cash, guns and ammunition, they shot the three victims with a stun gun, placed plastic bags over their heads, and sealed the bags with duct tape.
They then took the victims in Kehoe’s vehicle to the Illinois bayou, where they taped rocks onto them and threw them into the bayou. The bodies were discovered in Lake Dardanelle near Russellville in late June 1996. Kehoe and Lee returned to Spokane with the stolen property and later traveled to several states to sell the Mueller property at gun shows.
About a year later in Ohio, Kehoe and his brother Cheyne were involved in highly publicized shootout with two state troopers after they were stopped for driving too slowly and erratically on the road and found the license plate and registration had expired. The shootout was recorded on the Ohio trooper’s dashboard camera and was widely broadcast on national news.
Kehoe and Lee were apprehended by law enforcement in 1997 after some of Mueller’s guns had been traced to Kehoe, who prosecutors said was the ringleader of the cross-country crime spree by the white supremacist. Following a two-month trial in early 1999, Lee and Kehoe were convicted by a jury of capital murder counts, racketeering, and conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Kehoe, 46, was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.